Everything is Oll Korrect!

An eclectic bibliophile's journal…

Category: editorials

Notes on Praying the Divine Office

A few years ago I took an interest in beginning to pray the Divine Office to help bolster my prayer life. My goal was to add some structure to my prayers, so going through set prayers at regular intervals seemed like a good choice, but I quickly found that there are a lot of different options out there for learning how to say the Office in terms of websites, apps, and books, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve tried several of these, and though I’m still certainly no expert I thought I’d share my experience to offer a starting-point and make things easier for anyone interested in saying the Office themselves. I’m assuming that you know basically what the Office is but will start with a few important points you need to know. Then, I’ll go over some resources for actually praying the Office.

First, a few short notes. Typically, you’ll see the name “Divine Office” used to refer specifically to the pre-Vatican II form of the Office, while the newer form is more often called the “Liturgy of the Hours.” I like the newer name because it’s more descriptive, but I’ll follow the convention of using it only to refer to the newer form for simplicity.

The structure and concept of both the Office and the LotH are similar, and though I have a slight preference for the Office I like both and have found both very beneficial. The most important consideration here is which liturgical calendar you’re going to use. If you attend a Novus Ordo parish, you’ll probably want to use the LotH because it follows the new calendar. If you attend an FSSP, ICKSP, or SSPX parish you’ll probably want to use the Office because it follows the 1962 calendar, just as the associated Missal does. The large majority of feast days are the same between the two, but the names of each season and the dates of a handful of feasts are different, just enough that it’s certainly more convenient to use the Office/Liturgy that matches your parish. That’s especially true if you attend or watch livestreams of daily Masses, since the differing feasts are more noticeable than at Sunday liturgies.…

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What Books Have Most Influenced Me?

Every once in a while, especially when I still had accounts on ask.fm and Curious Cat, someone has asked me what books I’ve read that have most influenced me. It’s a reasonable enough question and seems like one I should be able to answer. After all, I read a lot and come across as a thoughtful person, and many posts on this blog are essentially my public attempts at trying to better understand what I read. However, there really isn’t one good answer. For one thing, I believe I’ve been influenced far more by the sum of many books and experiences than just a handful that I could easily enumerate. Also, much depends on what exactly we mean by “influence.”

For example, the obligatory answer to this question from any Christian is “the Bible.” By one measure of influence, this certainly is the answer in that it’s the one book I trust more than any other on the most important issues. If there’s a question of morality or any related subject and Scripture speaks on it, then I’m going to follow Scripture. There’s no doubt that it has also affected my beliefs in preferences in matters of art, as well, as Scripture permeates Western literature more than any other source.

I don’t think, though, that the Bible satisfies the question of what book has most influenced me because it hasn’t really changed my beliefs on anything. I was raised Catholic and have never deviated from the Church, so Scripture is more of a framework that other ideas build around and must conform to, similar to a first principle or axiom.…

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Notes on Approaching the Confucian Canon

Let me begin with something of a disclaimer. Though I’ve read all but one of the Four Books and Five Classics, and even written about some of them, I don’t consider myself an expert on Confucianism by any means. So take this post with a grain of salt, and expect it to be revised in the future as I read and reflect on the subject more. I’m writing it simply because I am asked occasionally how to approach the Confucian canon, so I thought it would be helpful to have a single place to point these people to, where I lay out some basic advice based on my experience.

Much as with choosing a translation of the Analects, which I’ve addressed previously, the main questions are how deep you want to go, and how much guidance you’d like. What I’ll do here is lay out which books you should read in the order I’d recommend reading them, with a few comments on each covering their main topic, availability, a link to my reviews where available, and whatever else may be relevant. Keep in mind that the reading order is a bit loose; for the Four Books I’m drawing from Chu Hsi’s recommendations given on this page.

If you just want the bottom line, I’d say if you just read one book it should be the Analects. If you want one more add Mencius, then the Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning together. Add An Introduction to Confucianism if you want the big picture, and The Everlasting Empire if you’re addicted to context. For the Five Classics, add the Odes if you’re interested in poetry, the Documents and Spring and Autumn Annals for history. Finally, add the Changes and Rites if you want to be a completionist.

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Notes on the Purpose of Poetry

Two weks ago we and Socrates met with Ion, a rhapsode and Homer’s greatest interpreter (in his own opinion). One question we touched on was whether poetry and rhapsody are arts, to which Socrates answered “No.” Rather, it’s a form of divine inspiration, which definition Ion was happy to roll with. However, that doesn’t seem to be true, for there certainly is an element of craftsmanship and skill involved with writing and reciting poetry, despite the occasional one-hit-wonder. Furthermore, even individual works, especially long ones like epics, are of mixed quality or at least mixed goodness. The Iliad, for instance, is a work of immense skill throughout, but at times portrays the gods in an impious manner, which seems very odd if it’s the work of inspiration by the gods. (As an aside, I am aware that all this isn’t Socrates final opinion on the subject, and that at least some of what he had to say was essentially said for Ion’s sake).

If poetry and rhapsody are arts, though, then what sort of art are they, and what is their end or purpose? We need to begin by defining some terms.

First, note that when Plato says “art” he’s using it in a broad sense. I won’t get into the Greek because I’m not familiar with that language, but since I’m writing for anglophones anyway we’ll proceed in my native tongue. In English we use “art” both to refer to any application of a learned skill, even in industry, as well as to production of a work of imagination or for aesthetic purposes. So, poetry is an art in that it’s an application of a learned skill (metrical writing) in a work of imagination or for aesthetic purposes.

Yes, I’m keeping it simple by defining poetry as “metrical writing.” Writers of free verse may be artists and authors of literature, but at least for our purposes they’re in a separate, though related, category. What is the purpose of poetry? I would answer that it is the creation of a work of beauty. So, what is beauty? Again, let’s keep it simple and follow this short article on St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of the subject. Beauty is something that “elevate[s] man to the infinite,” in other words, toward God (don’t worry, we’ll flesh this out more shortly). We can see that it’s closely related, then, to goodness and truth, and for a work to be truly beautiful it must be good and true, as well. “Goodness” in this context, of course, does not mean merely inoffensive, but uplifting in some way, which often does involve a portrayal of evil in some manner. “Truth” will not usually be literal truth, but can also be allegorical.

So, we now have an idea of what poetry is, and what its purpose is. Rhapsody is the art of reciting poetry in an effective manner. Both have as their purpose focusing man’s mind on the transcendent, the good, true, and beautiful.

Socrates, no doubt, wouldn’t let me go that easily. Since this is a one-man show, though, I’ll have to raise my own objections, and the obvious one is this: does poetry actually do these things? If so, how? There have been many claims that it does; I’ve discussed Confucius’ previously, and also touched on Ben Jonson’s in that same article. We might also point to Scripture’s inclusion of many poems, most notably the Psalms but also throughout many of its other books. As far as appeals to authority go, then, we’re looking good, but that’s not quite enough. Confucius and Jonson are fallible, and Scripture’s poems aren’t just poems, but also prayers.

Regarding that last point, the Bible’s form and content aren’t arbitrary, and given the value of plain speech, it seems to me significant that the sacred authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, thought it most appropriate to set the Psalms, hymns, and so on in verse. Most of Scripture follows a simple style, often too simple for modern tastes, so when it uses poetry we may safely assume that this is because there’s something about poetic form that’s especially appropriate or effective on the reader that suits the author’s purpose. If poetry is the creation of a work of beauty, and beauty raises one’s mind to the transcendent, then this is as expected. The Psalms, etc., are written to do precisely that, and so they use a form that amplifies the effect of what they attempt to do.

If that’s the case, though, then shouldn’t all of Scripture, and for that matter pretty much everything else, also be written in verse? Not necessarily. The primary purpose of the historical and didactic books is to convey information. For example, the authors of the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles tell us the narrative of the kingdom of Israel, while St. Paul in his Epistles tells us how we ought to live (primarily, of course – obviously, the same book can have multiple purposes and work on more than one level). This can be done in verse, but this type of information is best related in as straightforward and easy to follow a manner as possible. Additional ornament, though it may beautify the work, may also distract from the main points. Of course, this also applies to non-Scriptural works of history, philosophy, and so on, which typically are best presented in prose.…

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